Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay VHYes is that it made me nostalgic for '80s late night TV. Explaining the appeal to someone who wasn't there is difficult, so thank goodness this film exists. Those of us who remember the enthralling weirdness of flipping channels after 11:00 PM during that era will squeal with delight over the pitch-perfect recreation of it. Those who don't may find themselves longing for a time they weren't part of.
The general premise is that a 12-year-old boy named Ralph (Mason McNulty) gets a video camera for Christmas and accidentally records after-hours TV shows and home movies over his parents' wedding video. The film is presented as though we are watching that tape. We know he taped over the wedding because there are brief glimpses of it in between his recording sessions, just as would occur on a real VHS tape.
What follows is a montage of snippets from anything Ralph tapes. There's a program featuring a Bob Ross-like painter (Kerri Kenney) who gradually reveals a disturbing side; a home shopping network where the host (Thomas Lennon) sells average crap for exorbitant prices and speaks in double entendres; a true crime show that attempts to instill a sense of satanic panic; and, most amusingly, a late night movie program that airs porn flicks with the sex parts cut out.
Of course, these are exaggerated versions of what actually aired, yet they precisely capture the tone and spirit of their targets. VHYes does this for comedy, but more importantly to convey how strange those shows felt if you were a kid watching them during that time. There simply wasn't the abundance of content that there is now, so cable channels took chances, aired what they could get the rights to, or broadcast whatever was sitting around because they figured viewership was low. Director Jack Henry Robbins – whose parents, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, have cameos – stages all of it for maximum hilarity.
At the same time, VHYes is more than a stunt. Through its recurring skits, the movie comments on modern topics like immigration, climate change, and the way we all carry cameras around with us nowadays (via cell phones). Everything swirls together, leading to an ingenious finale that will speak to anyone with a head full of pop cultural detritus.
VHYes, which was shot completely on VHS and Beta, smartly runs just 72 minutes. Any longer and the joke would be run into the ground. As with any film of this type, different viewers will find certain parts of it to be funnier than others. Regardless of what you find most humorous, though, this is a clever, witty, and ridiculously fun flashback to an era where late night TV provided a treasure trove of eccentricity.
out of four
VHYes is unrated, but contains adult language and thematic material. The running time is 1 hour and 12 minutes.